Apogee Jam Plus Mobile Guitar interface
Updated: Feb 25
The Apogee Jam Plus has been launched. It's hard to match Apogee when it comes to quality audio interfaces for DAW or portable devices like iPhones and iPads. Their approach to design renders low noise and high definition devices, which are widely used in the music industry.
In the mobile interface space, the original Apogee Jam was groundbreaking and its successor had quality not matched via the competitors. I've run a comparison here:
Review: Guitar interfaces for iPad/iPhone
One of the remaining shortcomings, however, is the absence of a headphone output, which is a problem for iPhone users since the native iPhone headphone output has been removed a few years ago. My Jam 96k is useless on my iPhone - I can still use it heaps on my Mac or iPad. The latency of consumer wireless headphones make them a no no for guitar players jamming with their phones as the primary tone processing device.
Our prayers have been answered. Apogee just released the Jam Plus, which includes the following updates:
• Stereo headphone output (1/8") which can also be used with powered speakers. That solves the problem above...
• An input gain knob that now looks more like a digital rotary encoder. This means that fixing the gain at some specific point becomes easier; with the previous models it is hard to 'remember' where exactly the gain position was before as it may shift during transportation.
• A 'blend' feature. This control allows the user to mix some of the 'direct' instrument sound with the playback coming from your processing software, for low latency monitoring. While this is interesting, I would recommend experimenting with it a bit as if the software latency is noticeable, having direct and processed mixed can create an undesirable effect and confuse the player.
• A 'drive' mode, in addition to the 'clean mode', which is suited to overdrive situations with virtual stomp-boxes and amplifiers. This seems to have an effect of a pre-amp or an extra boost to assist with overdrive simulations on the target apps and software packages. Certainly an interesting idea.
• Body is made of metal, a but more ruggedised than previous releases, so more prone to withstanding rough conditions on the road - gig bags normally not the most friendly environments for electronics !
• Cables included are lightning, USB and USB-C, and it is compatible with iOS (so iPhone and iPad), Mac and Windows PC.
The input specification is still the same 96kHz / 24-bits as the previous model.
A license for Positive Grid's Bias FX software is included with the package - Apogee really took it to the next level with this one. Of course it should work fine with other packages like Amplitube, Amp Kit and others, but it's interesting to see the partnership with one of the top rated tone processing packages out there.
The first step was to understand if the sound quality would differ from the Apogee Jam 96kHz. For this I've used a Gibson SG plugged in directly, and a copy of Positive Grid's Bias FX running on an iPad Pro. With all sorts of clean and distorted patches the difference wasn't noticeable at all. It makes sense since the specs for the analogue to digital conversion are similar between both devices. I presume the Plus would have some minor design improvements and perhaps a newer chipset.
What did make a substantial difference was the gain control. I found it very hard to remember the position on the previous model as even the slightest touch would take it out of position. The rotary encoder functions more as a set and forget and takes a more voluntary touch to shift to another position. Ideally this in the future could be set electronically so you could have presets for various guitar models.
The blend feature made more sense with clean tones as you would then mix the direct sound from the guitar with the processed sound from the Bias FX. On distorted tones, the latter would take precedence as it was generally much louder. Also with cleaner tones there was less processing in the chain therefore the latency on the processed signal was hardly noticeable in comparison with the direct signal blended in. Of course for this I've stripped the iPad of any other processes and set Bias FX for minimum buffer size (therefore lowest latency).
The 'overdrive' option is quite interesting, it did ad a warm body to the sound when used with the amp simulations in the Bias FX, especially if these had gain and/or some distortion. I felt this was a virtual equivalent to, for example, adding an overdrive stomp box in front of the amp.
This was a great addition to the Jam family. Apogee keeps improving the product at every release, and have come a long way since the first model was launched. The Jam family continues to be one of the best options for mobile guitarists. More on the subject can be read on the ultimate mobile guitar setup article.